Rickey Henderson was approaching 40 years of age when the Mets signed him as a free agent on December 16, 1998. With his combination of speed and power he was considered by many to be the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, but he also had a reputation of being a “hot dog” with a penchant for wearing out his welcome for each team he played for, evidenced by the fact that he switched teams eight times in twenty seasons. Needless to say, Met fans had some trepidation about Rickey Henderson.
But their fears were quickly assuaged after Henderson got off to a fast start. He hit .313 over the first ten games of the season, including a 4 for 4 performance in which he hit two home runs on April 7th. With Henderson as their leadoff hitter the Mets jumped out to 7-3 record. Henderson would go on to play in 121 games for the Mets in 1999, 114 as their leadoff hitter and leftfielder. He led the team in hitting with a .315 average while hitting 12 home runs with 42 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. His .423 on base percentage was also the second highest on the team to John Olerud’s .427, not bad for a 40-year-old player.
The Mets finished the 1999 season tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the National League Wild Card, meaning the two teams would have to play a one game playoff for the final National League postseason spot. Henderson led off the game with a single and scored on Edgardo Alfonzo’s two run homer. After two batters the Mets had a lead they would not relinquish. Henderson would hit a home run in the top of the 5th inning to extend the lead, as the Mets went on to win 5-0 to reach the postseason for the first time since 1988. Henderson continued his strong season in the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He hit .400, including a 3 for 5 performance in game three, with six stolen bases and a .500 on base percentage, as the Mets won the series in four games to advance to the National League Championship Series. His six stolen bases set a record for most in a NLDS series.
But in the NLCS Henderson struggled, as did most of the Mets hitters. He hit just .174 (4 for 23) in six games, as the Mets lost the series. But it was his alleged actions in game six which left a bitter taste in the mouths of Met fans. Trailing the series 3 games to 2 and needing to win game six to extend their season, the Mets fell behind 5-0 in the first inning and eventually fell behind 7-3. But they battled back to eventually tie the game in the 7th inning with help from Henderson who doubled home a run and scored on a single by John Olerud. Henderson was taken out of the game in the 8th inning as part of a double switch. After the Mets lost the game in eleven innings on a bases loaded walk, it was reported in all the tabloids the next day that Henderson and Bobby Bonilla were playing cards in the locker room instead of supporting their team by staying on the bench. It was a bitter pill for most Met fans to swallow and when he got off to a slow start in 2000, hitting just .219 after 31 games, they let him know it. With the boos getting louder at Shea Stadium it was obvious that Henderson had once again worn out his welcome and the Mets decided to part ways by releasing him on May 13th. Henderson’s final numbers with the Mets were a .298 average, 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 42 stolen bases.
Henderson would play out the 2000 season with the Seattle Mariners, and would play three more years before retiring after the 2003 season. Though according to Henderson, he didn’t actually retire he just was not given another chance to play. In 2009, his first year of eligibility, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame becoming the tenth former Met player to be so honored.
Rickey Henderson did serve as the Mets first base coach in 2007, joining the staff when Jerry Manual took over as manager in June. He finished out the season but was not asked to return in 2008.
While with the Mets Henderson wore number 24.
Rickey Henderson also played for the following teams:
Oakland A’s – 1979-1984, 1989-1995, 1998
New York Yankees – 1985-1989
Toronto Blue Jays – 1993
San Diego Padres – 1996,1997,2001
Anaheim Angels – 1997
Seattle Mariners – 2000
Boston Red Sox – 2002
Los Angeles Dodgers – 2003